Jeffrey (Jeff) Robbins, a dedicated SSIT member, author, and IEEE SSIT International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS) presenter, died on April 18, 2022, after a two-year illness.
He was born in New York City in 1941 and grew up in Long Beach, NY, USA.
An incisive multidisciplinary thinker and writer, Robbins was an adjunct professor with the English Department, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, for the past 20 years. He was a prolific contributor to IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (TSM). His most recent articles included: “When Smart Is Not: Technology and Michio Kaku’s The Future of the Mind” (2016), “If Technology Is a Parasite Masquerading as a Symbiont—Are We the Host?” (cover article, IEEE TSM September 2019), and “The Intelligence Factor: Technology and the Missing Link” (March 2022).
Robbins has a BS degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, in 1962, and a master’s degree/A.B.D. from The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA, in 1967, where he was a graduate student research associate on the Rover Nuclear Rocket, Los Alamos National Laboratories, Los Alamos, NM, USA. Early in his career, he worked at NASA and Ford, and eventually as a software consultant.
Starting in 2002, Robbins taught at the English Department, Rutgers University. He taught writing courses focused on semester-long themes such as “Technology,” “Order, Chaos, and the Universe,” “The Corporation,” “Biosphere Politics,” and “Popular Culture.”
In his own writing, research, publications, and presentations, Robbins focused on the impacts of technology and technological development on humans and society. His SSIT website biography notes, “His research interests stem from an ongoing concern for the, too often swept aside, bite backs of rising technical order.” His article, “An Eastern Exposure on the West” (1990), won a $ 10,000 First Prize in a national essay competition presented at the U.S. National Press Club. He recently completed a book manuscript with the working title Shortcut: Technology and the Trap of Losing It For Not Using It. His first book, On Balance and Higher Education: A Gesture to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, was published by Philosophical Library, was published by Philosophical Library (1970). (A longer list of Robbins’ publications can be accessed HERE.
Robbins was proud to be among the earliest and longest represented attendees at the ISTAS, starting with precursor conferences in the 1980s in Kentucky and Los Angeles, and presenting at the first official ISTAS Conference in Toronto, ON, Canada, in 1990.
“He added so much to SSIT over many years, with much humor and goodwill,” noted SSIT President Clint Andrews.
Katina Michael, who worked with Robbins as an author when she was the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of Technology and Society Magazine between 2012 and 2017, added, “Jeff supported so many ISTAS’s with his papers and with his presence.… A deep deep thinker! And a brilliant academic.”
Another past EIC of TSM, Keith Miller, said, “Jeff was a good writer, a good friend of SSIT, and a good man. RIP, Jeff.”
Jeremy Pitt, the EiC of TSM at the time of Jeff’s passing, said, “It was a privilege to publish two of Jeff’s papers, which were among the most profound and thought-provoking articles carried by the magazine in my time as editor. He was a joy to correspond with, and his last TSM article on The Intelligence Factor is a remarkable and quintessentially humane achievement.”
Jeff Robbins is survived by his daughter Nina Robbins, son-in-law Arkell Weygandt, and granddaughter Robyn Vivienne Weygandt. “He was a good friend to all, a magnificent father, a passionate teacher and a curious human who always questioned the path of least resistance,” wrote Nina. “He was a fierce critic of technology and warned the world about global warming before it was hot,” she continued. “If you would like to make a donation in his name, please consider the following organizations: Earth Justice or the Center for Human Technology.”